Thursday, 4 August 2011

Sydney teenager in good spirits after extortion attempt

Teen leaves hospital after bomb drama

The terrifying ordeal in which an elaborate hoax bomb was chained to a Sydney schoolgirl's neck is being treated by police as an attempted extortion.

Police have set up a strike force into yesterday's incident, which sparked a tense, drawn out operation that ended 10 hours later, shortly before midnight, when bomb disposal experts safely removed the device.

Today the father of 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver said his daughter was in “pretty good spirits” despite the “horrific ordeal” at her multi-million dollar home in the wealthy suburb of Mosman.

However she was “a little sore” from having to hold the device in place for 10 hours.

William Pulver said his daughter had today paid tribute to friends and family, and to police who had remained with her during the hours it took for bomb disposal police to remove the device, which turned out not to contain explosives.

A masked man broke into the family's home yesterday afternoon and attached what appeared to be an improvised explosive device to the teenager. The man also left “specific” instructions and a letter of demand.

Police said the device later turned out to be an “elaborate hoax”.

Robbery and Serious Crime Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Luke Moore said this afternoon police were treating the incident as an attempted extortion.

“This would have been a terrifying and traumatic ordeal for the young woman,” he said.

“We are pursuing a number of lines of inquiry - however, it appears at this stage to be a case of attempted extortion.

“We have established Strike Force Haddon to examine this incident and the motivation behind it.”

Superintendent Moore told reporters that police were treating the incident as a “serious and complex investigation” and an unusual crime
He said police were conducting extensive forensic examination at the family home on Burrawong Avenue. “We have some initial lines of inquiry that we are following up,” he said. “There's a lot of resources involved in this investigation.”

Superintendent Moore confirmed there was a letter of demand attached to the device that police had believed was a bomb.

“It was an elaborate device certainly made to look as though it was potentially explosive,” he said. “We are treating this as an attempted extortion.”

Supt Moore said police did not have a full description of the offender, but there was “no doubt” police were looking for a suspect.

Mr Pulver, in a short statement to the media, said his family was eager for their lives to return to normal. “We have a daughter on the cusp of doing HSC exams ... Our appeal to you is that you respect our privacy after this and leave us to get on with our lives.”

Mr Pulver, with his wife Belinda by his side, thanked everyone involved in the operation, including police, hospital staff and emergency workers.

“You are a wonderful group of people, you were an extraordinary support and comfort to my daughter last night.”

In particular, he said his daughter wanted to thank the officers who had stayed with her for many hours “with little regard to their own personal safety”.

“They were an incredible comfort during a horrific ordeal.”

Mr Pulver said he was proud of “Maddy” who was coping well.

“She has woken up this morning in pretty good spirits,” he said.

“She is a little tired, a little sore from holding this damned device in place for about 10 hours.”

Mr Pulver is chief executive of Appen Butler Hill, which provides linguistic and voice-recognition services for many organisations including governments.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch said this morning the apparent improvised explosive device had resembled a shoebox or small briefcase.

It was fixed to the young women by a chain, which Commander Murdoch said took some time to remove.

“(It was) a very, very elaborate hoax as it turned out,” Commander Murdoch said at a media conference this morning outside the Mosman home.

“But it was made and certainly gave the appearance of a legitimate improvised explosive device.

“We had to treat it seriously until we could prove otherwise and that's exactly what we did and that's why it took so long.”

Instructions left by the disguised offender were “articulate and specific” and gave police the impression he knew what he was talking about, Commander Murdoch told ABC radio.

While police hoped to gain new information from CCTV cameras in houses in the area, the man's disguise made identification difficult.

For much of the ordeal, a young policewoman remained with Madeleine, without any protection, putting herself at risk.

NSW police sought advice from British military experts and Australian Federal Police as they worked to make the device safe.

Ms Pulver was taken to the Royal North Shore Hospital and released this morning.

Specialist police later began a detailed search of streets surrounding Madeleine's home, searching for clues.

Meanwhile senior year trial exams at her school, Wenona High School, have been postponed and counselling has been offered to other students.

Dr Briony Scott, the principal of the young woman's school, has advised students not to speak to media and to stay clear of social networking sites.


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